view of comet

Visitor Comet C/2019 Q4 as imaged by the Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope on Hawaiʻi Island on September 10, 2019. Credit: Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Interstellar Objects (ISO) team helped confirm the discovery of a comet scientists believe may have originated from outside the solar system.

A team from an observatory in Crimea first spotted the comet on August 30. NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, worked with astronomers and the European Space Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center in Pisa, Italy, to obtain additional observations of the comet.

Researchers Karen Meech, Dave Tholen and the ISO team at the UH Mānoa Institute for Astronomy (IfA) observed the comet, refining its orbit and inferring that it is between 1.2 and 10 miles in diameter. Astronomers, including those at Maunakea telescopes, will continue observations to further investigate the comet and better identify the direction it came from.

The comet, C/2019 Q4, is expected to make its closest approach to Earth on December 28, at about 190 million miles.

The first object identified as from outside the solar system was ʻOumuamua. In October 2017, astronomers at IfA made the stunning discovery with the Pan-STARRS1 telescope.